With Spring Training upon us, it's time to crack open the mail and answer some reader questions yanked off my e-mail inbox and Twitter feed. I'd encourage you to send me some good old-fashioned snail mail, but after learning the other day that a fan sent Cliff Lee his fingernail clippings (https://twitter.com/castrovince/status/437735260751949824), I think we'll stick with the electronic route for now.
If you'd like to be included in a future Inbox, use the handy submission box below or tweet @Castrovince.
Away we go ...
What do you think of the reported deal for Mike Trout? Fair for both sides?
We'll see if such a deal gets nailed down, obviously, and the devil will be in the details. But if the report from Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports holds true and a $25 million average is the base value (six years, $150 million was the reported framework), that would be brave new territory in terms of a guarantee to a 22-year-old.
But that doesn't mean it wouldn't be a worthwhile risk on the part of the Angels.
There's no getting around the simple fact that the Angels are late to this particular party. Their chance of following the gold standard set by Evan Longoria's first extension sailed shortly after Trout's late-April promotion in 2012. And negotiating with Trout after that monster season would have been bad business, given the short sample propping up his perceived value at that point.
But now that Trout has a two-year track record of MVP-type output and arbitration eligibility is just a year away, the Angels are up against it. Sure, they could wait, pay Trout a bargain-basement salary for 2014 and see what develops. But if Trout comes even remotely close to replicating what he did the past two seasons, he could shoot for the moon in arbitration and probably justify just about any dollar figure. That's a frightening financial proposition. So you can understand why an Angels team that has so many backloaded deals with its stars would want some semblance of future cost certainty, and a position player is inherently a better bet than a pitcher, particularly when said position player is 22 and has already accumulated a 17.2 career WAR.
If anything, a six-year deal that eats up just two of Trout's free-agent years is a bit on the short side for the Angels, who would probably love to lock in Trout for the bulk of his career at 2014 prices. As it stands, Trout would be eligible for free agency at 28, with whatever remains of a $150 million deal in his bank account.
Not a bad way to go through life.
With the offseason they had, do you think the Tigers will be better or worse this year?
No better, no worse. Just different. I still think they are the fundamental favorites in the American League Central, because nobody in that division -- or, arguably, any division -- can replicate the 1-2-3 punch afforded by Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. Certainly, there are questions about Verlander's ability to bounce back from what was, for him, a subpar season, but I'll take that question over the ones the Indians and Royals face with every starter not named Justin Masterson or James Shields, respectively, and the jury is still very much out on the White Sox and Twins.
The Tigers won't score 796 runs again, but because of their improved defense, they also won't have three starters rank in the top 10 in batting average on balls in play and won't finish next-to-last in the AL in defensive runs saved. They'll have more speed in their lineup than at any time in recent memory, and they have the makings of a better bullpen. As I wrote here, they are philosophically better situated for October than they were the past few seasons -- no small point for a team very much in World Series-or-bust mode.
But as far as the regular season outlook goes, I'll say it again: No better, no worse, just different. And different does not impact the bottom line that they are the AL Central favorites.
Are we going to see a Mariano Rivera-esque goodbye tour for Derek Jeter in 2014?
Yes. Like Rivera, Jeter will be fawned over and feted at each of his final appearances around MLB, and deservedly so. And this is the kind of stuff I find fascinating, because the timing of Jeter's retirement has put every Yankees opponent in 2014 in a precarious spot. How do they possibly equal or top the creativity expended to bid adieu to Rivera when the simple truth is that, outside of World Series rings and beautiful women and using the name "Philip" at Starbucks (Google it), we have absolutely no read on Jeter's real interests? The guy has everything, reveals nothing, and is, therefore, impossible to shop for.
All we have to go on is a retirement announcement that cited a desire to "start a family" and "see the world." So I guess it wouldn't hurt to give him a copy of "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and a travel fanny pack, but somehow that doesn't strike me as properly reverent.
Lazy runner? This wasn't actually written by Kevin Long, was it?
I don't know which specific ranking Pedro is referring to, though MLB Network's "Top 10 Right Now" series did put Cano at No. 1 and Pedroia at No. 2 among second basemen, so perhaps that's it.
As someone who recently unveiled his annual rankings of lineups and rotations and bullpens and whatnot, I can attest that any ranking system is inherently arbitrary and dumb and grounds for a war of words. That's the fun of it, I suppose. But the Pedroia-Cano debate has long been a good one, even if it's a bit dulled by Cano's exit from the AL East.
What I do know is that if I were starting a team from scratch and had unlimited resources, I'd take Pedroia over Cano. The advanced metrics rate Pedroia as the superior defender (UZR hates Cano, for whatever reason), his weighted on-base percentage (.362) and weighted runs created (121) marks since his first full season in 2007 (.362) are only a shade below Cano's (.371 and 129), he's a much bigger threat on the basepaths, he's a year younger and, if team achievements can reasonably be applied to individuals, he's got twice as many rings.
Of course, Cano is going to make nearly twice as much money as Pedroia this year, so, you know, there's that.
Who do you see as the most improved team? Which division do you see as the toughest heading into the season?
The Padres, Giants, Brewers and Angels all strike me as teams in particularly good position to cross the .500 threshold after finishing below that bar in 2013. And as we've seen, if you're simply above .500 late in the season, you're in the conversation.
The Giants rotation is a good bet for a bounceback, while the Padres and Brewers were ravaged by injuries a year ago and should be in a better competitive position with improved health. If the Angels get even a shadow of the Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton of old, they can keep their head above water in the AL West.
I'm still not sold on the Mariners as a true contender, but they'll obviously be quite a bit better with Cano. And as I mentioned earlier, the Twins and White Sox are total wild cards, but I like the moves made by both clubs this winter to at least get out of the dreaded 90-plus-loss zone.
Toughest division? It remains the AL East, until further notice, and the Orioles' recent moves add depth to the division. Top to bottom, though, the NL West is more interesting than people give it credit for, because there might not be a stinker in the bunch.
What's your favorite to-be-installed statue?
Until Cory Snyder's booming bat and golden locks are immortalized in brilliant, bird-poop-resistant bronze, I'm ambivalent on the matter. But I do hope the Thome statue accurately depicts the mashing of a tater.